By Marcie Flinchum Atkins
Submitting your work can be overwhelming, especially when you start to send out multiple manuscripts over a long period of time. Because I write poetry, short stories, articles, picture books, and novels, I needed a system to keep track of everything. I’ve tried to streamline it into a process that works for me. I’m going to walk you through some of the tools I use. Some of these may work for you. Some of them may not. Feel free to tweak them to fit your submission needs.
Picture Book Status Log
Now that I’m beginning my third year in 12×12, I have quite a stack of picture books. Many of them are no good, but there are a handful I want to pursue, and I now have a handful with very specific rejection letters. I wanted to have some way of assessing where I was with each manuscript.
I created a Picture Book Status Log where I could record the title of each book and make notes about the stages of development. It’s nothing more than a way for me to see what I’m working on and keep me on track for revisions for all of my promising manuscripts.
Completed Works List
Again, as I started to query agents, I found that I needed an easy way to access all of my short paragraph synopses of my finished picture books and novels. I also needed an up-to-date bio that I could include with all of my query letters.
I created a completed works list. At the top, I include my updated bio. If the bio needs updating, I change it here. I can then copy and paste the bio into query letters.
I also listed the titles, word count, and short synopses of each completed book. I can also copy and paste this into query letters. Then all I have to do is personalize the letter.
I’m spending less time scrolling through old query letters and updating them this way.
While I do print out multiple versions of my picture books, I don’t print out my novels as much. I keep very organized digital files. First of all, I store everything on Dropbox (http://www.dropbox.com). Ever since I cried on the desk of the Geek Squad fearing my master’s thesis was gone forever, I have used Dropbox. Forty dollars and a few hours later those amazing Geek Squad guys had my thesis on a CD. But I learned my lesson. Now I can rest comfortably knowing that if my computer were to be destroyed ALL of my writing is backed up.
I name files by working book title. Inside of the file, I keep all of the files related to that book. For example, in the beginning, I have the millions of drafts. If I do a rewrite, I do SAVE AS and rename it with the title and the date. Once I start submitting I save it with the title, my name, date, agent’s name, agency name. Yes, it’s a long title. But, at a glance, I can see what I did with that manuscript.
I also keep physical files on my desk. I bought these file organizers from Staples when I started seeing my works-in-progress grow in number. I need to see what I was working on (still in revision), what I wanted to research, and what was out on submission. If I get a rejection letter, I might resend it out right away or it might go back into the WIP (work-in-progress) file if I received revision suggestions. If I finish a WIP and send it out, it moves to the On Submission file.
Log for the Folders
Inside of each folder, I keep a written log taped to the inside of the folder. I do this more for short works—short stories and picture books. I write down when I sent it out and to whom I sent it (including critique groups). If I sent it to an agent or editor I include their name and agency or publishing company. When I get a rejection, I make a note about the comments, and mark the date it was returned. I often print the rejection letter and put it in the file to help me make changes later.
I have been asked why I keep physical copies and not just store it all on my computer. I do store a LOT on my computer, but, for me, writing and revising picture books doesn’t ALL happen on the computer. I do a lot on paper. Someday, I also want to take that thick file to a school visit and show young writers how much writing and rewriting goes in to making a great 500-word picture book.
Submission Spreadsheet for Agents
I read a lot of blogs about the industry. As I hear about agents that might be possibilities for my work, I log them into a spreadsheet. I include the agent’s name, their agency’s name, what they are looking for, and any links where I read about them.
If I submit to them, I include the date I submitted and what I submitted. I also fill in that row in a color. For me GREEN is on submission, PINK is a rejection, BLUE is that the agent is open to future submissions.
Even if you aren’t ready to submit yet, it’s a good idea to start collecting information on agents that might work for you.
I also keep a separate spreadsheet that has two sheets. One sheet is for things I submit for publication. On that sheet I include the date, the title of the submission, what I included in the submission (query + 10 page, query + 3 chapters, cover letter + full, etc). I record who I sent it to and approximate time for response. After I hear back, I make a note.
On the second sheet, I record my submissions to my critique groups. Because I’m a member of three different critique groups, it’s important that I record what I send to each group. I learned a long time ago, I can’t rely on my memory.
I use Google Calendar to keep track of all events in my life. I have a color for personal, a color for writing, and a color for blogging.
When I send a submission, I take a look at the guidelines for the agency and put on the calendar when I expect to hear from them. I honestly try to make it longer than it says on their website. This helps me know when I should follow up.
Make it Work for You
Figure out the easiest way to organize for YOU—what makes sense in your brain. Don’t rely on your memory, however. Keep very accurate records. And most importantly, get your very best work out there.
Marcie Flinchum Atkins teaches fourth graders how to write by day and writes her own books for kids in the wee hours of the morning. She can also be found wrangling her own kids and reading books with them. She blogs about making time to write and using mentor texts at www.marcieatkins.com. Marcie holds a MA and MFA in children’s literature from Hollins University.